Interview with David Lipson, ABC The World

  • Transcript, E&OE

DAVID LIPSON: Foreign Minister, thanks for your time. You've just met with Malaysia's 93-year-old comeback king, Mahathir Mohamad, the new Prime Minister here. Last time he was in power our two nations didn't get on so well. What is going to be different this time?

JULIE BISHOP: It was some time ago and there's a real excitement about the new government here in Malaysia and Australia is looking forward to working closely with the new government. I have had high level meetings, not only with the Prime minister, but also with the Foreign Minister, the Defence Minister, the Attorney-General and the Deputy Prime Minister, and each one of them was very warm and enthusiastic about our ongoing relationship in the ways that Australia can work with Malaysia as it embarks upon a very ambitious reform agenda.

DAVID LIPSON: There were some thorny comments from Anwar Ibrahim soon after the election, he's effectively the prime minister-in-waiting and said that Australia had been complicit in the corruption of the former Najib administration because it didn't speak out strongly enough against that regime. You met him yesterday. Does he still hold those views?

JULIE BISHOP: He certainly didn't express views like that to me, nowhere near it. In fact he spoke very fondly of Australia of our deep engagement with Malaysia, particularly through education. Indeed, while he was incarcerated his son attended university in Australia so he has a very close connection to Australia. I reiterated our Prime Minister's invitation for him to visit Australia and he's hoping to do so in the near future. I have met with the officials, and the Ministers, and Prime Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister here in the new Government and the enthusiasm for the Australia-Malaysia relationship was palpable. They're very keen to work with us closely on a whole range of issues and indeed Anwar Ibrahim himself urged the Australian Government to work closely with the new government, particularly in areas of financial governance, in electoral and political reform, legislative reform, social policy, and education in particular. We're sending a group of eminent persons, so-called, to Malaysia shortly to work with the officials and ministers and departments on some of these legislative reforms.

DAVID LIPSON: One of the matters that has came up regularly in your meetings here in Malaysia is its plans to abolish the death penalty. Is that going to have any bearing on the Australian on death row, Maria Exposto?

JULIE BISHOP: Her matter is in fact under appeal so it wouldn't be appropriate for me to discuss her specific matter, but in relation to the death penalty more generally, we warmly welcome the new Government's commitment to abolishing the death penalty. This is a matter that Australia has advocated around the world. In fact it was a matter that we promoted for our election to the UN Human Rights Council. We oppose the death penalty both at home and abroad and we are happy to work with countries who are seeking to abolish the death penalty and work with them as they make these legislative changes.

DAVID LIPSON: To Cambodia – you said yesterday that ASEAN nations meeting this weekend would have quite a bit to say about the Hun Sen regime and the so-called sham election recently in that country. What can we expect out of ASEAN?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has stated very strongly that the election was clearly not free and open, given the Cambodian government's actions in suppressing the activities of the opposition, the media and civil society in Cambodia. There is an ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting this week in Singapore, and I would except that the Cambodian election would be a topic of discussion because Cambodia is a member of ASEAN, the ASEAN nations commit to a range of values and principles including free and open and fair elections, and I imagine that this will be a topic of discussion. Australia attends the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and I'll certainly make my views and the views to the Australian Government known.

DAVID LIPSON: The silence of ASEAN nations in the past on issues like this has been pretty deafening – are you confident that they are going to speak out loudly enough? Do they risk falling into irrelevance if they don't tackle these issues, theses important issues of governance?

JULIE BISHOP: At the forum over the weekend there will be nations represented from beyond the ten ASEAN nations – the United States are there, China, Russia, Australia, Japan, South Korea – there are a number of nations present and issues like this are debated in the various forums. So it's not just the ten ASEAN nations but it's beyond that. I believe that it is a fundamental issue for ASEAN to tackle, that is the conduct of their members. The issue of Myanmar, for example, and what's happened with the Rohingyas in the humanitarian crisis is also a topic for discussion because Myanmar is an ASEAN member.

DAVID LIPSON: Is Australia considering sanctions against Cambodian officials?

JULIE BISHOP: We will in the meantime engage with the Cambodian government, and make our concerns known, and seek a response from the Cambodian government. We'll also discuss with other like-minded nations, including the United States and others, as to what would be an effective response. We have a number of options that we are currently considering.

DAVID LIPSON: And are sanctions included within those options being considered?

JULIE BISHOP: We have a number of options we're currently considering.

DAVID LIPSON: What did you think when you saw the Four Corners episode this week and the Cambodian leader, Hun Sen, on Australian soil making death threats against the children of an opposition figure who had sought refuge in Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: It was a deeply disturbing report. These are matters that we raise with the Cambodian government. Hun Sen was in Australia to attend the first ASEAN Australia Leaders' Summit. He met with Prime Minister Turnbull. We raised this issue, we raise issues with the Cambodian government and we're deeply concerned about the situation there.

DAVID LIPSON: Onto the South China Sea – there is some talk of draft code of conduct ahead of ASEAN. It has been talked about for years this code of conduct, and anyway, China hasn't always followed the so-called rule of law anyway when it comes to matters relating to maritime issues. Do you think a code of conduct will be helpful or as some critics suggest purely political theatre?

JULIE BISHOP: It would depend what was in the code of conduct. The ASEAN nations have agreed to negotiate a code of conduct with China. Not all of the members of ASEAN are in fact claimants in the South China Sea, about six are not, so it would be a document that would have to take into account claimants and non-claimants. We have not seen the content of it so it would depend what was agreed and whether it was to be enforced. What we urge is for all claimants to negotiate their differences peacefully and recognise their right, if those negotiations don't lead to an outcome, recognise their right to go to arbitration or conciliation under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. That is what Australia and Timor-Leste did over the Timor Sea maritime boundary. We submitted to a conciliation process and we've now concluded a treaty resolving that issue between us. So we would urge other nations to do likewise.

DAVID LIPSON: Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, thanks for your time.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

- Ends -

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